The impression of flawlessness is a tough standard to maintain. It’s what audiences have come to expect of Beyoncé since she debuted as one-fourth of Destiny’s Child in 1997, not merely because of her era-defining music and performances but because she executes it with such seeming ease. Surprise plays a role: It’s part of the reason why her unprecedented 2013 surprise-drop, self-titled album rewrote the release strategy playbook for the music industry, and why her elaborate headlining slot at Coachella in 2018 was instantly historic. She’s the bar, and has been for the past decade — and she’s raised it time and again.
2022’s “Renaissance,” an album centered in the Black experience drawing heavily from, and indebted to, ballroom and queer culture, came with a more traditional rollout — “Break My Soul,” a diva house whiff of ’90s revivalism, wasn’t exactly the expected direction — and although it was more polarizing than her other recent work, it connected in a way that many of her albums hadn’t, creating a sense of community among her diehard fans while drawing more casual listeners into its saucy, freewheeling gravitational pull.
“It’s always been about using my art and my influence to really celebrate all of our differences,” she says during a voiceover vignette in “Renassaince: A Film,” her concert movie that weaves a breathless amount of footage from various dates on her record-setting Renaissance World Tour. “My ultimate goal is to create a space where everyone is free and no one is judged, and everyone can be their childlike selves, their sexiest selves. They can all be on that stage. They are the vision. They are the new beginning. That’s what ‘Renaissance’ is about.”
“Renaissance: A Film,” releasing to AMC Theatres on December 1, celebrates her community, interspersing slick performances with interludes that lift the curtain on what inspired both the album and tour. Written, produced, and directed by Beyoncé herself, the two-and-a-half-hour movie revisits the meticulous show that she says took four years to create, highlighting what the public saw in real-time and on social media (i.e. the heavy choreography, the surgical-cut vocal runs), but also the hesitations and self-doubt she faced while assembling it.
It’s one thing to create a home video or Netflix-style documentary for a tour, both of which Beyoncé has released in the past. A theatrical release of a concert film is a taller order, although it’s safe to say she had the wind at her back for this one: By its conclusion in early October, the tour amassed a staggering $579 million worldwide, with 2.7 million fans attending across 56 dates in 39 cities — the highest-grossing tour by a Black artist and the eighth-highest-grossing tour of all time.
In addition to the eye-popping performances, the film features Beyoncé speaking candidly about her decisions in a way that music fans have come to expect from such concert films, most recently reaching full cultural throttle with “Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour” documentary. Her family, for one, is a centerpiece, with frequent appearances from her mother Tina Knowles, daughter Blue Ivy Carter, and even her twins, Rumi and Sir. But she also reveals details about how far she’s come as an entertainer and where she sees herself heading, a creative with a clear vision of what she wants to accomplish without any of the “people pleasing” she describes as a former cornerstone of her business approach.
“The biggest growth in my artistry has come from overcoming failure, conflict and trauma,” she says. “But the next phase of my life, I want it to come from peace and joy. I am who I am, and you take me, or you don’t. It’s a really beautiful place to be as a woman… It’s the best time of my life. I thought I was there at 30, but nah, it’s getting better. Life is getting better. I spent so much of my life a serial people pleaser, and finally, I don’t give a fuck.”
One of the more poignant moments from the film focuses on her daughter, Blue Ivy Carter, who appeared on tour to perform with her mother on “My Power.” Beyoncé explains that she only wanted the 11-year-old to do just one date, worried for her exposure at such a young age and hesitant to give her the opportunity without having had to work for it. And then, one of Blue’s friends showed her negative reviews of her dancing online. It only fueled her ambition further, and Beyoncé details the growth she saw as the tour progressed. We witness it through stitched-together clips that show determination may run in the Knowles family.
The vision of the “Renaissance” show comes across clearly: It includes nearly every song from the concert, and many of the performances are montages between separate shows with different costumes; the editing is stark. The seamless fast cuts in “Move” and the tight close-ups during “Pure/Honey” are riveting, and the stitching across the 56 tour dates makes it feel unified.
But the film truly excels in its portrayal of life beyond the stage. Beyoncé invites viewers to join her on a trip to her native Houston, where she chows on local cuisine and visits her family home, unlocking memories lost to time. She speaks of her Uncle Johnny who she sings of making her dress on “Heated,” with her mother Tina Knowles describing his influence on a young Beyoncé and her sister Solange. But she also knows how much to give, and shows vulnerability in ways that undercut yet emphasize her perfectionism. Prior to the “Renaissance” tour, she underwent surgery on her knee from a stage accident that happened nearly two decades ago, and we see her in rehab working in double time to be able to perform on stage.
“I was absolutely terrified because she had to rehab so quickly,” says Tina. “She rehearsed on that knee, she came out on tour on that knee, and so I was always scared that she was going to re-injure the knee, but she is always a trooper.” Cut to images of stitches in Beyoncé’s knee. “Usually I only rehearse in heels, but because of my knee, I haven’t gotten that far yet,” adds Beyoncé. “It’s been hurting like crazy, but the best thing to do is to just get back on the horse.”
And she does so, quite literally. Beyoncé’s resilience is just one of her superpowers, and she simply shrugs off the hardships. Highlights include Beyoncé riding on her glittering disco horse over the crowd on “Summer Renaissance,” and the moment during “Energy” where everybody goes on mute — when the whole stadium goes quiet, including Cardi B, whose participation in the challenge went viral. We also see Beyoncé the boss, whether offering instructions about the backup singers’ harmonies or how the horns should crash in at just the right time. At times, mostly near the end, the performance clips can drag out, even when the artistry is at the highest level. Fans likely won’t tire of it, but the film’s long duration may leave some viewers restless.
Of course, the audience is a main character in the film, and their reaction is as rapturous as one would expect: We see tears, flashy outfits and knowing nods when Beyoncé sings certain lyrics — and that extends to her crew members and dancers, singers and musicians. All of them lavish praise on her throughout, although it’s not hard to see why. Beyoncé pores over every detail but takes it all in stride. It’s water off her back when the mic cuts out during a performance — extra time to do a spontaneous costume change, a stagehand suggests — and she blames it on not having her “pregame sandwich” and ginseng shot beforehand.
Throughout “Renaissance,” as ever, Beyoncé is in complete control of her narrative — that impression of flawlessness doesn’t happen by itself, and despite the film’s intimacy, we never truly get a glimpse behind the curtain. It’s satiating enough — there are tears, laughter and reflections — and delivers morsels of what it takes to be one of the biggest stars in music. It’s satisfying without being indulgent, but most of all, it’s a monument to Beyoncé’s status as one of pop’s most enduring figures, and everything it takes to get there.